Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Neurotoxin found in some Lake Winnipeg algae


UBC researchers found BMAA toxin in high concentrations in 25% of algal blooms tested in Manitoba lake. Story here.

Lake Winnipeg. Greenpeace photo.

A FOOTNOTE: In the interests of fairness and accuracy, it should be pointed out that it was Eva Pip,
a long-time water expert at the University of Winnipeg, and a colleague who are on the record as first confirming BMAA in Lake Winnipeg, NOT the BC research team referenced in the CBC story.  


Find Prof. Pip's research here.

Global response to malaria at crossroads - WHO report shows gains are levelling off

World Health Organization

After unprecedented global success in malaria control, progress has stalled, according to the World malaria report 2017.  There were an estimated 5 million more malaria cases in 2016 than in 2015. Malaria deaths stood at around 445 000, a similar number to the previous year.
A female malaria mosquito (Anopheles albimanus), feeding on a human host. 
Photo Credit: James Gathany, Centers for Disease Control

“In recent years, we have made major gains in the fight against malaria,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO. “We are now at a turning point. Without urgent action, we risk going backwards, and missing the global malaria targets for 2020 and beyond.”

The WHO Global Technical Strategy for Malaria[ii] calls for reductions of at least 40% in malaria case incidence and mortality rates by the year 2020. According to WHO’s latest malaria report, the world is not on track to reach these critical milestones.

A major problem is insufficient funding at both domestic and international levels,  resulting in major gaps in coverage of insecticide-treated nets, medicines, and other life-saving tools.

RELATED: Malaria response at ‘crossroads,’ risks backward slide – UN

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Proposed fossil fuel development threatens yet another caribou herd - by Larry Powell.

Antlers of the barren ground caribou can be a meter tall. 
The majestic animals have traditionally provided food for subsistence hunters
A Wikimedia Commons photo. 

According to the magazine Science, US politicians may be about to put the continent’s biggest and healthiest caribou herd at risk. That’s because a US Senate committee has just voted to allow drilling for oil in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The coastal plain region of the sprawling refuge happens to be the calving grounds for the Porcupine caribou herd.

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Photo credit - 
US Fish & Wildlife Service.

Republicans supporting drilling say its footprint will be small. Environmental groups disagree, saying roads and pipelines will dissect the animals' habitat. 

A Canadian wildlife ecologist quoted in the story, Chris Johnson of the University of Northern BC (Prince George), says the consensus that industrial activity disturbs the animals is “pretty strong.” It has already been observed that caribou stay away from industrial activity, including diamond mines in Canada and will even move their calving grounds, as a result.

It is estimated that the Porcupine herd may consist of as many as 200 thousand animals.

US Republicans have been trying to open up the refuge to drilling for decades.


Monday, November 27, 2017

Yet another of Earth's creatures faces extinction. - by Larry Powell

It’s not looking good for the vaquita. 
Photo: C. Faesi / Proyecto Vaquita 1992.
The vaquita are porpoises which measure only about 1.5 meters, fully grown. They’re among the smallest of the cetaceans, an order of marine mammals which includes porpoises, dolphins and whales. Their numbers have now dwindled to fewer than 30 in Mexico’s Gulf of California, where they live. 

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports vaquita numbers have declined an astonishing 92% since 1997. Gill net fishing is the main culprit. The vaquita have become “collateral damage” as poachers target a fish whose swim bladder fetches $20 thousand dollars per kilogram for use in Chinese medicine.

Mexico has imposed a permanent ban on the taking of vaquita. But authorities have been unable to enforce the law sufficiently to make a difference.

Now, the magazine, Science is reporting, an eleventh-hour bid by a team of conservationists, to bring them back from the brink, has been a heartbreaking failure.

A rescue team has been trying for some two years now to capture enough live animals to breed them in captivity, so their numbers can recover. But the vaquita have proven so sensitive to the stress of capture, two females have now died. And the rescuers have decided it's just not worth risking the death of any more. So the effort has been called off with no plans for another.

The rescuers do not regret having tried. They’re just sorry they hadn’t started sooner.

So where does this leave these vulnerable, intelligent, innocent creatures? 
According to the author of the Science article - in “extreme peril.”


Nebraska approves alternative route for TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline


PinP photo.
Nebraska regulators approved passage of TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline Monday, clearing the last major regulatory hurdle for the controversial $10-billion project but creating a new wrinkle by choosing an alternative route for the pipeline. STORY HERE.

Controversial glyphosate weedkiller wins new five-year lease in Europe


EU votes to reauthorise the pesticide, ending a bitterly fought battle that saw 1.3 million people sign a petition calling for a ban. STORY HERE.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Climate change could increase volcano eruptions

Shrinking glacier cover could lead to increased volcanic activity in Iceland, warn scientists in a new report. Story here.

The Mayon volcano, Philippines.1984.
Photo by C.G. Newhall

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Worldwide increase in methane bubbles due to climate change

Science Daily
Due to climate change, more and more methane is bubbling up from lakes, ponds, rivers and wetlands throughout the world. The release of methane -- a potent greenhouse gas -- leads to a further increase in temperature, thus creating a positive feedback loop (also known as a 'vicious circle'). Story here.

Methane bubbles from the La Brea Tar Pits - Los Angeles. 
Photo credit - KimonBerlin

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

In Hogs We Trust. Part 11

The Price We Pay For A$$embly-line Pork

Taxpayers in Manitoba had better get ready to dig deeper. Our provincial government has just relaxed the rules so the hog industry can expand. And, given past history, more corporate welfare will, surely, soon be flowing again into the trough for producers.  

I’ve compiled a probably-incomplete history of largesse which has already been bestowed upon factory barn operators in just the past ten years. 

I think you’ll agree, the numbers are impressive. 

I'll begin with HyLife Foods. 

It’s located on the outskirts of the small, central Manitoba town of Neepawa, where I used to live. 

HyLife describes itself as “the largest pork processing company in Canada.” (“Pork processing” is actually a euphemism for a place where thousands of hogs are butchered each day, in this case, right on the edge of town.)

Workers take a break at the HyLife plant. A PinP photo.

According to Town of Neepawa bylaws, the three levels of government agreed in 2007, to help Springhill Farms (HyLife’s forerunner) pay for a wastewater treatment plant, costing more than $8 million. While it would treat the sewage from the town’s 3,000 human residents, it would mainly help Springhill meet the province’s clean water standards, by dealing with the blood, hair, manure and offal from the pigs being slaughtered there at the time. Springhill and Neepawa taxpayers would each chip in $1.5 million. Even churches, which would normally be exempt, had to step up. Taxpayers at the federal and provincial level together put up the rest - over $5 million. 

But two years later, by '09, the cost of that project had almost tripled - to nearly $24 million. According to an informed source, this was to accommodate plans by HyLife (as it had then become) to expand beyond the plant size originally envisioned. (As we speak, it is doing just that.) HyLife had to cough up an additional $10 million. But, while local taxpayers were spared any additional levy this time, the Manitoba and federal governments had to shell out $12 million more. 

All that money was going into an industry which, in the previous three years, had virtually “tanked.” It was being plagued by a series of disasters, including oversupply, low prices, high costs and a global economic crisis. Because of the risk of swine flu, the US and Japan were refusing to buy our pork. Hogs were being sold at a loss. Many producers were almost bankrupt. It’s estimated that Canada lost 28 percent of its pig farms and 20 percent of its pigs during that time.

Then, the same year as HyLife’s treatment plant costs were skyrocketing, along came the Feds with the “daddy” of all bailouts (for pork producers across the country). At the urging of the Canadian Pork Council (CPC), the industry’s lobby group, Ottawa stepped in with two separate loan programs totalling almost $500 million. One, with a budget of more than $400 million, was designed to make it easier for “viable operators” to get long-term loans. These do not have to be repaid until 2024, another seven years.

The other was aimed at helping producers deal with the "oversupply" problem (too many hogs for the market to handle). It allowed them to borrow more than $82 million dollars, but only if they agreed to get out of the business, altogether, and stay out for at least three years. It is estimated that more than four million pigs were "removed" as a result.

 A government evaluation found the programs were "mostly effective" in achieving their goals. 

But, at what cost? 

Many of the borrowers defaulted on their loan repayments. According to the evaluation, “The percentage of reserve-backed loans that continue in the first 36 months to be repaid without defaulting is at 53%. This suggests just under half of the loan amounts given to producers are impaired or are at risk of being impaired.”And, altho the loans were handled through banks and other financial institutions, it is unclear who is repaying the interest on those loans - bound to be in the tens of millions of dollars - the hog producers or the government.

My attempts to clarify these points with the government have been unsuccessful, so far.

Turns out, '09 was a good year indeed for factory hog producers. Manitoba and Ottawa also announced a joint payment of $37 million to Manitoba producers in that year, many of whom had been losing money for years.

Meanwhile, back in Neepawa, in 2011, not long after helping HyLife out with its wastewater treatment, Ottawa announced it would lend the company $10m.  Since it seemed to be doing well after a multi-million dollar expansion (it’s now processing 1.69 million hogs yearly and selling its products in Canada, the US, China and JapanI wanted to know how the company was doing with its repayments, six years after the loan was announced. The government wouldn’t tell me. So I launched an Access to Information request. Three months and scores of e-mails later, I received a heavily-redacted document - with entire pages missing.

Turns out, HyLife doesn’t have to pay any interest on the loan. While the deadline for repayment is 2023, it’s also described as a “conditionally repayable contribution.” It allows the Minister of Agriculture to grant  the company more time to repay, or even to release it “from any term, condition or obligation” that may apply. 

Does this mean HyLife may not be required to repay anything, at all? 

My attempts to clarify this question with some certainty with the government have gone unanswered, so far. 

Then, in 2012, the Puratone Corporation, a major pig producer in Manitoba, went bankrupt. Maple Leaf Foods, also a major player in Canada, with a huge killing plant in Brandon, bought it out. Puratone owed $92 million at the time and was,"in breach of its loan covenants.” But my efforts to find out whether it was Maple Leaf or the taxpayers of Canada who absorbed those costs, have also been unsuccessful. 

Two years later, Ottawa loaned $5 million to Maple Leaf to help upgrade one of its Ontario plants. (It’s worth noting that Maple Leaf’s CEO, Michael McCain, could have made that loan himself out of his yearly salary and still had more than a million dollars left over!)  

And two years later, the federal and Manitoba governments teamed up to "invest" another $500 thousand in Maple Leaf to help it make more bacon at its Winnipeg plant. News reports at the time did not explain whether the “investment” was a grant, a loan with interest, an interest-free loan or, like the one to HyLife, a “conditionally-repayable contribution.”

Just weeks ago, it was revealed in the so-called Paradise Papers that the same Maple Leaf Foods owns an offshore company, the kind often designed to avoid paying taxes at home. (A truly "win-win" for the corporation - a "lose-lose" for the rest of us.)

So, by my count, government assistance of some sort has happened on at least ten occasions over the past ten years, totalling well over half-a-billion dollars.  

If one extrapolates the frequency of such handouts and projects them into the future, it is not unlikely we can expect the next one, in one form or another, in a year or so!

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Keystone XL Gushes Half-a-Million Litres of Oil - 'Because 'Pipelines Are Bound to Spill'


'With their horrible safety record, today's spill is just the latest tragedy caused by the irresponsible oil company TransCanada.' Story here.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Global Carbon Pollution Reaches Highest Levels Yet, New Report Shows

The Global Carbon Project and the University of East Anglia brought unwanted news this week: 2017 saw the highest levels of carbon pollution on record.  Story here.
The Koch fertilizer plant in Brandon, MB.
PinP photo.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Canada releases report on the progress of caribou recovery-strategy - overall prognosis? Not good!

In the boreal forest, the environment and the economy are linked: all stakeholders have a part in protecting it. Our government is committed to conserving wildlife habitat and protecting species at risk in this vast swath of Canadian forest. Story here.

Photo credit - Jon Nickles 
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

"In Hogs We Trust." Part 1

Could the Manitoba government’s return to a deregulated hog industry actually contribute to a world health crisis?

The Pallister government has just passed its “Red Tape Reduction and Government Efficiency Act.” The bill makes it easier (and cheaper) for pig producers to build new factory barns, expand existing ones, store and dispose of the waste and to even spend less on fire protection. 

According to the industry group, “Manitoba Pork,” as many as 100 new factory barns may now be built over the next ten years.

A CanStock Photo image.

What the Bill will not do is stop the dangerous overuse of antibiotics in animal agriculture. Livestock owners around the world (including Manitoba’s hog producers) have long been giving these medicines to their animals, whether to treat the sick, prevent the healthy from getting sick, or simply to fatten them up for market.

This is all perfectly legal here and in many other countries.

While it's true that antibiotics are sometimes used and abused in human medications too, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) estimates “80% of all antibiotic use in Canada occurs in the raising of animals for food.” 

And, about three out of every four doses given this way, are identical to the drugs you and I need to fend off deadly infections.

The PHAC goes on, “There is increasing evidence that the use of antimicrobial agents in livestock production is an important contributing factor to the emergence of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in humans.” AMRs are sometimes called “superbugs” which, because of this inappropriate use, have developed a resistance to treatment by most or all of the medicines available today. They spread to humans who have either eaten pork, beef or chickens treated in a similar manner.

And, if the world needed any more convincing, the respected New England Journal of Medicine calls AMR "a critical threat to public health." 

So scenarios where doctors have to advise their patients that “There’s nothing more I can do for you," are, alarmingly, becoming more frequent. 

Three days before the Manitoba bill was approved, the World Health Organization sounded its most urgent alarm yet over the administering of antibiotics to food animals. The WHO says things must change, if we are to preserve the effectiveness of these life-saving medications. The UN agency advised farmers and the food industry everywhere, to simply stop giving animals such medications altogether, whether to promote growth or prevent disease. Healthy animals should only be treated if disease is diagnosed elsewhere in the same herd. And, even while treating animals already sick, only medications not considered critical for the treatment of human infections, should be used.

But data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development are even more alarming. It reports that AMR is “highly prevalent” in the 35 developed countries it represents, (including Canada). 

It estimates the yearly loss of life, worldwide, probably runs into the tens of thousands, already. But current rates of resistance are increasing to the point where ten million people a year could be dying in this way by 2050! 

This, the OECD notes, would "move the needle" on the human cost of AMRs, from “substantial” to “enormous.” While the bulk of the deaths would be in Africa and Asia (see OECD table, above), there could still be 700 thousand in North America by that time. (No breakdown is given for Canada.)

Why, you ask, would an economic organization get involved in a health issue? Because, it expects future increases in health costs to also be enormous; almost $3 trillion by 2050, for OECD countries alone! That's because AMR patients are sick longer, need more (and costly) treatments, more tests and are three times more likely to die.

With new barns and more hogs now on Manitoba’s horizon, only pro-industry spin-doctors would dare to suggest that this won’t mean more antibiotics, as well. (The OECD expects such usage to increase by a staggering two thirds by 2030.) 

I have e-mailed both Premier Pallister and the industry group, **Manitoba Pork, to ask them about these concerns. Neither has responded, so far.

So, if the world pays as little heed to this prevailing medical wisdom as the Pallister government and the industry are doing, for this Manitoban, "optimistic" just got harder to be. 

Larry Powell  is an activist and journalist living in Shoal Lake, where he publishes


  •   ** Larry Powell
    Nov. 5, 2017 at 9:07 p.m.

    Dear Manitoba Pork,

    I'm a journalist based in Shoal Lake. I am writing a series of stories on the effects if Bill 24  on your industry. 

    I have a couple of questions for now and possibly more in future.
    • How would you describe the extent to which antibiotics are administered in the hog barns of Manitoba? Is it common? Occasional? For treatment? Prevention? Growth promotion? All three?
    • Do you have any plans to modify this usage, perhaps because of warnings from the WHO and others of the danger of such practice in promoting the growth of superbugs, dangerous to human health?
    Many thanks for your prompt attention.

    Shoal Lake, Manitoba.
    P  Before printing think about the environment

Monday, November 13, 2017

Rights of Nature Emerges as Strong Alternative to Climate Mitigation and Adaptation Framework

Indigenous Environmental Network

BONN, Germany – After one week of the climate conference, it is clear that many believe the general climate framework will not resolve chaotic climate conditions. Story here.

More than 15,000 scientists from 184 countries issue 'warning to humanity'


A similar warning was first issued by scientists in 1992. Story here.

Aftermath of Hurricane Maria - 2017.
Photo by Filo gèn'

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Door opens to hog expansion in the Canadian province of Manitoba

Manitoba Co-operator

Anaerobic digesters out, new barns in. Story here.

RELATED: More alarm bells sound over drug usage in the world’s intensive livestock operations.

Massive B.C. coal mines are about to get a new owner. Why some are worried about Glencore’s record

THE NARWHAL Coal mine at Tumbler Ridge, B.C.  Jeffrey Wynne ,      If the sale goes through, the company will inherit a contamination proble...